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Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

The Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan has connections

The Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan has connections to some of the biggest names in the nation's history, from presidential candidates to actors and actresses. (Credit: Waldorf Astoria)


Waldorf Astoria's rich history, from Barack Obama to Marilyn Monroe

301 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10022

The Waldorf Astoria is synonymous with glamour, history, films and an endless list of famed names.

In 1893, William Waldorf Astor opened a 13-story hotel on Fifth Avenue named the Waldorf. Four years later, it joined forces with the neighboring Astoria Hotel, opened by William's cousin John Jacob Astor IV, to become the Waldorf Astoria. That version of the hotel shut its doors for good in 1929, 17 years after Astor IV died in the sinking of the Titanic.

But that wasn't the end of the iconic hotel. Its successor opened to the public on Park Avenue on Oct. 1, 1931. It was known as the tallest hotel in the world when it opened, according to the Waldorf.

The hotel "has been the host to just countless -- thousands -- of people who have called this place a home away from home. It has been a remarkably important part of the city, and, in many ways, the history of our country," said James Blauvelt, the Waldorf Astoria's ambassador, who has been with the hotel for 35 years.

The famed hotel will go through yet another evolution when it closes on March 1. It is slated to remain closed for up to three years as 1,000 of its rooms are converted to luxury apartments, the building's owner, China-based Anbang Insurance Group, announced in July.

A hotel that technically has more than 100 years of history behind it is sure to have its secrets. Only the Waldorf could have connections to some of the most famous names America has seen to date, and something as simple as a salad dressing.

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, held

Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

Tradition has presidential candidates roasting at the Waldorf

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, held annually at the Waldorf Astoria, has been a tradition since 1945. The dinner raises money for local charities, but the quirky aspect of the event? The presidential roast.

Both major candidates are slated to attend during an election year to take part in a fun-spirited roast. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the most recent names to join in on the tradition. Previously, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and John McCain took to the stage to roast each other.

Pictured: President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney share a laugh at the 67th Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria on Oct. 18, 2012.

OK, there's a catch to this hidden gem.

Credit: Waldorf Astoria

Celebrate your anniversary at the Waldorf for under $20

OK, there's a catch to this hidden gem. The Waldorf matches its prices for couples who celebrated their wedding in the hotel and have held onto their receipts. In January 2014, Tony and Jo Fioravante from Staten Island celebrated 66 years of marriage at the Waldorf and their bill only totaled $15.75, according to the hotel. That's how much it cost them to spend their honeymoon at the Waldorf in 1947. The Waldorf calls this a "secret policy" that it has "stayed true to for years."

Pictured: A dinner party bill from 1915 for 17 guests.

In the famous two-story main ballroom, there's a

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

It takes a crew of two 36 hours to clean the chandelier

In the famous two-story main ballroom, there's a massive chandelier setting the scene for the fabulous weddings, parties and charitable events that take place there. It's been in the hotel since the '40s. How does the Waldorf keep this beauty sparkling? Well, the staff cleans it.

When they're doing a deep clean, it takes two people 36 hours straight to remove, dip and dry the seemingly thousands of crystals by hand, Blauvelt said. (In the midst of that tedious work, they've opted not to add counting them all to their list of things to do). The crystals are dipped into a chandelier cleaner, he added.

If you do get the chance to stand

Credit: Getty Images

You're standing with greatness in the ballroom

If you do get the chance to stand in the middle of the grand ballroom -- or anywhere in the Waldorf, really -- keep in mind you'll be standing where hundreds of famous people have in the past. "Some of New York's -- and the world's -- most prominent families have gotten married here," Blauvelt said, without revealing a list of famed names.

Bill Clinton, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and other former presidents have taken the ballroom's stage during events and meetings. Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and other musicians sat in its event spaces when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was held there in 2000.

Not to mention that Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe used to live at the Waldorf, according to Blauvelt. Paris and Nicole Hilton once called the hotel home, too, Forbes reported in 2006.

The first big picture to be filmed at

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Films often feature the Waldorf, but not its name

The first big picture to be filmed at the Waldorf Astoria was 1945's "Weekend at the Waldorf," said Jonathan Stas, a history and marketing manager who has been with the hotel for more than 10 years. It was one of the first major movies filmed entirely in a hotel instead of in a studio, he added. "Weekend at the Waldorf" grossed $4,366,000 and ranked No. 7 at the box office in 1945, according to the hotel.

Another big picture filmed at the hotel was Jennifer Lopez's 2002 "Maid in Manhattan." But, this movie didn't flaunt the Waldorf name. Instead, the building was used for exterior shots of the movie's fictional Beresford Hotel. Stas said it's not uncommon for the hotel to be featured in movies without its name. That practice is actually preferred, to keep a level of distance between what the film features and what the hotel represents, he added.

Lucius Boomer, the former Fifth Avenue location's general

Credit: Waldorf Astoria

Waldorf Astoria was purchased for $1

Lucius Boomer, the former Fifth Avenue location's general manager, bought the Waldorf Astoria for only $1 after William Waldorf Astor's death in 1919, Blauvelt said. He then proceeded to help a group of New York financiers open the Park Avenue Waldorf we know today. But technically, he didn't buy the hotel for four quarters -- he bought the name.

Pictured: An exterior shot of the Waldorf Astoria at its Park Avenue location in 1935.

The Waldorf salad was first created in the

Credit: Waldorf Astoria

The popular Waldorf salad dates to the 1890s

The Waldorf salad was first created in the kitchen of the Waldorf's Fifth Avenue location in the 1890s, according to the hotel. Apples, mayonnaise and celery made up the original recipe. Today, the Waldorf salad is still a staple on the hotel's Bull and Bear Prime Steakhouse menu, only its ingredients have since gotten an upgrade: candied walnuts, sweet and sour apples, celeriac and truffle. The salad is priced at $19.

Thousand Island dressing can also be traced to the hotel. One of the Fifth Avenue Waldorf's first managers, George Boldt, is known for more than just his work with the original Manhattan hotel. Legend has it, he's also responsible for the success of the Thousand Island dressing that is still sold in stores today, Stas said.

Here's the story: Boldt was a big fan of vacationing in Thousand Islands, an area of land off of the St. Lawrence River, near the border of Canada. Oscar Tschirky, Boldt's understudy at the Waldorf, visited him in his vacation home and blended up the salad dressing out of ingredients he found lying around. Boldt loved it so much, he began selling the dressing in the Waldorf soon thereafter.

At some point between its opening in 1931

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

There are 148,000 tiny tiles on the floor mural

At some point between its opening in 1931 and its renovation in 1984, the lobby had been covered with drapes and carpeting. A flood during a cocktail party in 1983 forced the hotel to remove the carpet, which had an interesting, identifiable pattern, and other garnishing, revealing ceiling paintings. In replacing the carpet with tile, the hotel had a floor mural designed with the carpet's pattern in mind, Blauvelt said. The lobby restoration was a part of a $100 million, five-year refurbishment plan, which also spruced up the ballrooms, meeting areas and silver Art Deco details found around the hotel, according to a 1984 New York Times article.

When they redid the lobby, it took 148,000 tiny tiles to create the mural, Blauvelt said. Yes, someone counted.

Over the years, areas of the lobby floor

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

All of the tiles aren’t as old as they seem

Over the years, areas of the lobby floor mural have been added and tiles have been replaced. The new tiles had to match the warn, darker color that the older ones now reflected. So, the staff got a little crafty. They stained the grouting in between the tiny tiles by hand with coffee to give it that antique feel, Stas said. If you look closely, you'll be able to notice a line between the newer and older tiles.

You know that silver statue that stands tall

Credit: Waldorf Astoria

The iconic entrance statue came from a contest

You know that silver statue that stands tall above the Waldorf's entrance? It's become a symbol of the hotel and is being used as an emblem of the 85th anniversary. Named the "Spirit of Achievement," its design actually could have been something entirely different. In the '30s, before the Waldorf opened, a contest was held encouraging local artists to design a statue that would become synonymous with the hotel's name. More than 400 designers, who were given no direction on what the sculptures had to be, entered, Blauvelt said. He wasn't certain of what the other entrees ended up being, but said the sculpture they chose has become a symbol of the hotel's past, present and future achievements.

When John Jacob Astor IV died during the

Credit: Newsday / Phillip Davies

The site of the old Waldorf is now the Empire State Building

When John Jacob Astor IV died during the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the fate of the Fifth Avenue Waldorf, which sat near 33rd Street, was up in the air. It was sold in 1929 to a developer who ended up demolishing the hotel and building something else instead: the Empire State Building.

An old employee handbook sits behind glass in

Credit: iStock

There's a trick behind the Waldorf's bed sheet fold

An old employee handbook sits behind glass in the Waldorf's lobby. Wondering what's inside? The training manual taught hotel employees how to treat guests, serve food, mix drinks, tend to the rooms and even how to fold the sheets, Stas said.

There's a particular way the Waldorf Astoria folds its sheets, which is detailed in the employee handbook. Keeping comfort in mind, the sheets are folded with a puff of extra space at the very end, so when one's feet stick straight up in bed, they're not compressed by the fabric, he added.

When the Waldorf was built, the subway station

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

It’s lifted off the ground so you don’t feel the subway

When the Waldorf was built, the subway station power center that once operated beneath it was influential in its design. Looking at the exterior of the building, a passer-by can see the building itself doesn't actually begin where it meets the sidewalk. Instead, the building was elevated by a floor and a half, leaving that much space between guests and the racket of the trains below, Stas said. Raising the ground floor of the hotel helped prevent guests from feeling the trains below them. Remnants of the building's structural elevation are spotted in the indented design that runs along the exterior, added as extra cushion, he said.


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